11/1/2000 Gendered Media
Reflection hypothesis – holds that media content mirrors the behaviors and relationships, and
values and norms most prevalent in a society. However we can also view media as
prescriptions that tell you how to live your life and therefore, media is also a powerful
shaper of behaviors and values.
Symbolic Annihilation – the media traditionally have ignored, trivialized, or condemned
3 ideas –
Women and minorities are under represented in both decision-making positions and as
subjects of media.
Women and men are more often portrayed in stereotypical fashion in the media.
The relationships between women and men are also presented in a stereotypical manner.
Underrepresentation of Women and Minorities –
Newspapers - News of women-centered activities and events, or of particular women (with
the exception of female heads of state, women who have died or been killed and women
notable for their association with famous men) is usually reported as soft news and
relegated to a secondary "non-news" section of the paper. For instance, a 1996 study of
twenty U.S. newspapers found that 15% of front-page news references were of females and
only 33% of front-page photos included women. Perhaps more telling is the way news about
women is treated when it is reported as hard news. Reporters were likely to mean an
individual’s sex, appearance, and marital status or parenthood. Example 1996 Carol
Mosley-Braun was described as "" den mother with a cheerleader'’ smile.""
In attempting to explain the symbolic annihilation of women by newspapers, many analysts
have emphasized that most of the staff at the nation’s 1,5000 daily newspapers are men.
(37% are women, 31% female newsroom supervisors, 19.4% female executive editors,
Television – Women play 1 out of every 3 roles on prime-time television. (has not changed
Children’s programming - males outnumber females by two to one
Newscasts - Women make up about 16% of newscasters
This constant distortion tempts us to believe that there really are more men than women
and, further, that men are the cultural standard. These facts certainly doesn’t support the
Minorities are even less visible than women. Also underrepresented is the single fastest
growing group of Americans - older people. As a country, we are aging so that people over
60 make up a major part of our populations; within this group, women significantly
outnumber men. Older people not only are underrepresented in media but also are
represented inaccurately: sick, dependent, fumbling, and passive. - often presented as
Stereotypical Portrayals of Women and Men
Stereotypes of Men - Media reinforce long-standing cultural ideals of masculinity: Men
are presented as hard, tough, independent, sexually aggressive, unafraid, violent, totally in
control of all emotions and - above all - in no way feminine.
Children’s television - typically shows males as "aggressive, dominant and engaged in
exciting activities from which they receive rewards from others for their ‘masculine’
Equally interesting is how males are not presented. Specifically, there are seldom
portrayed as nurturers - not involved in their families - seldom shown doing housework.
Typically, represented as uninterested in and incompetent at homemaking, cooking and
child care. (1 to 3% male characters as compared to 20 to 27 percent of female
Men’s Magazines – magazines like Esquire and Gentleman’s Quarterly – still emphasize
living a leisurely lifestyle that is made possible by one’s financial success.
Similar to women’s magazines, periodicals intended for men generate their own gender
images and ideals. Normative masculinity according to these magazines does not include
establishing a long-term relationship with a woman. Instead the real man is free and
adventurous. He is a risk taker who purses his work and his hobbies – including in this
latter category relationships with women – with vigor.
Stereotypes of Women -
In TV, women are portrayed as significantly younger and thinner than women in the
population as a whole – being younger and less mature than male characters and therefore,
less authoritative. 1994 – only 15% of female characters on prime-time TV were aged 45
or older. , and most are depicted as passive, dependent on men, and enmeshed in
relationships or housework.
46% of women on television compared with just 16% of men are thin or very thin.
Female newscasters are expected to by younger, more physically attractive, and less
outspoken than males.
28% are shown on the job compared with 41% of male characters
Children’s programming - the few existing female characters typically spend their time
watching males do things.
MTV - routinely pictures women satisfying men’s sexual fantasies. Media reiterate the
cultural image of women as dependent, ornamental objects whose primary functions are to
look good, please men, and stay quietly on the periphery of life.
Women who depart from traditional roles are portrayed positively, but this done either by
making their career lives invisible or softening and feminizing working women. Example,
women physicians on ER professionally competent, BUT also very attractive.
Magazines -Popular women’s magazines are another source of stereotypical portrayals.
Women’s magazines continue to emphasize how to look better, appeal to men, cook nice
meals, maintain relationships and care for families. - Fashion, fitness, cosmetics, weight
and age control. Some magazines such as Cosmopolitan are focusing on a bolder sexual
behavior. The ultimate goal remains getting and keeping a man, even if the strategy is no
longer romance, but rather aggressive sex appeal.
Magazines play a key role in promoting pleasing others as a primary focus of women’s
lives. Peirce’s (1990) study found that magazines aimed at women stress looking good and
doing things to please others. Thus, advertising tells women how to be "me, only better" by
dyeing their hair to look younger; how to lose weight so "you’ll still be attractive to him",
and how to prepare gourmet meals so "he’s always glad to come home."’ Constantly, these
advertisements emphasize pleasing others, especially men, as central to being a woman,
and the message is fortified with the thinly veiled warning that if a woman fails to look good
and please, her man might leave.
Advertising also sells products and reinforces attitudes in ways that often go unrecognized
by the causal reader. Goffman’s early work 1979 concentrated on the subtleties of posture
and relative size and positioning of hands, eyes, knees and other parts of the body in ads.
A man is pictured taller than a woman unless he is socially inferior to her. Men and boys
are shown instructing women and girls. A woman’s eye is averted to the man in the picture
with her, but a man’s eye is averted only to a superior. Women’s hands caress or barely
touch. They are rarely shown grasping, manipulating, or creatively shaping. Women have
faraway looks in their eyes, especially in the presence of men. Women act like children and
are often depicted with children.
More recent data indicate that women continue to be depicted in terms of Goffman’s
categories. We see this in the MTV women - often they are just body parts - not full
women. Archer found that "face-ism" still dominate for men as does "body-ism" for
women. They suggest that the face is associated with qualities such as character and
intellect while the body is associated with qualities such as weight and emotion, thus
contributing to our beliefs about what is deemed important for men and women
Stereotypical Images of Relationships between Men and Women -
Women’s dependence/men’s independence
Example - MTV - portrays females as passive and waiting for men’s attention, while males
are shown ignoring, exploiting or directing women.
Commercials, too manifest power cues that echo the male dominance/female subservience
pattern. For instance, men are usually shown positioned above women, and women are
more frequently pictured in varying degrees of undress - nonverbal cues that represent
women as vulnerable and more submissive while men stay in control.
Men’s authority/women’s incompetence
Men are the competent authorities who save women from their incompetence. Children’s
literature vividly implements this motif by casting females as helpless.
Children’s literature - casts females as helpless and males as coming to their rescue.
Gothic novels - reinforces this motif.
Commercials -define males as authorities. Women are routinely shown anguishing over
dirty floors and bathroom fixtures only to be relieved of their distress when Mr. Clean
shows up to tell them how to keep their homes spotless.
75% of the voice-overs are male. Using male voice-overs reinforces the cultural view that
men are authorities and women depend on men to tell them what to do. This discussion is
taking place in what gender computer-generated voices should be male or female. The
rationale of the advertising industry is that female voices are neither authoritative nor
believable. But marketing research casts some doubt on this argument. Studies show no
differences in the persuasiveness of female and male voice-overs and researchers have
also found that female spokespersons are more trusted by the public than male
Women as primary caregivers/men as breadwinners
Since the 1980 this gendered arrangement has been promulgated with renewed vigor.
Men are portrayed as incompetent about nutrition, childcare, and housework.
Women as victims and sex objects/men as aggressors.
A final theme in mediate representations of relationships between women and men is the
view of women as subject to men's sexual desires. The irony of this representation is the
very qualities women are encouraged to develop (beauty, sexiness, passivity, and
powerlessness) in order to meet cultural ideals of femininity contribute to their
victimization. Also, the qualities that men are urged to exemplify (aggressiveness,
dominance, sexuality, and strength) are identical to those linked to abuse of women.
Women are often portrayed alternatively either as decorative objects, who must attract a
man to be valuable, or as victims of men's sexual impulses. Either way, women are defined
by their bodies and how men treat them.
Portrayals of women as sex objects in advertising and particularly in MTV - Typically,
females are shown dancing provocatively in scant and/or revealing clothing as they try to
gain men's attention. Frequently, men are seen coercing women into sexual activities
and/or physically abusing them. Violence against women is also condoned in many recent
films. Male dominance and sexual exploitation of women are themes in virtually all R- and
X-rated films. These media images carry to extremes long-standing cultural views of
masculinity as aggressive and femininity as passive. They also make violence seem sexy.
Media’s role in shaping our understanding of issues related to gender.
Who has the power? Who controls the media?
Historically, the lack of women in the media has been paralleled by the scarcity of women
in charge of media. Only about 5% of television writers, executives, and producers are
women. Ironically, while two-thirds of journalism graduates are women, they make up less
than 5% of those in corporate management of newspapers and only about 5% of
newspaper publishers. Female film directors are even more scarce, as are executives in
charge of MTV.
There is a second, less known way in which advertisements contribute to stereotypes of
women as focused on others and men as focused on work. Gloria Steinem - advertisers
control some to most of the content in magazines. In exchange for placing an ad, a company
receives "complementary copy" which is one or more articles that increase the market
appeal of its product. So a soup company that takes out an ad might be given a three-page
story on how to prepare meals using that brand of soup; likewise, an ad for hair coloring
products might be accompanied by interviews with famous women who choose to dye their
hair. Thus, the message of advertisers is multiplied by magazine content, which readers
often mistakenly assume is independent of advertising.
3rd way that media shapes our understanding - TV is the primary source of news for at
least two-thirds of Americans with newspapers ranking second. This suggests that our
understanding of issues, events, and people is shaped substantial by what television and
newspapers define as news and the manner in which they present it. As gatekeepers of
information, news reporting selective shapes our perceptions of issues related to gender.
Example - 1990 Gulf War - melodramatic pictures of children watching mothers go to war,
while talk shows asked the question "Should a woman leave her baby to go to war?" This
communicates two messages real women don’t leave their children, and fathers are not
Implications of Media Representations of Gender -
Fostering Unrealistic and Limited Gender Ideals -
Many of the images dispensed by media are unrealistic.
But do idealized images in media really affect us? Research, however, suggests that the
unrealistic ideals in popular media do influence how we feel about ourselves and our
relationships. Mediated images seem to function at a less than conscious level as implicit
models for our own lives.
Role Modeling contributes to development of gender identity. We look to others - including
mediated others- to define how we are supposed to be. Especially during the early years
when children often do not clearly distinguish reality from fantasy, they seem susceptible to
confusing media characters with real people.
Kimball’s study compared the sex-stereotypical attitudes of children who lived in areas
without television and those in similar areas who watched television. He found that children
who watched television had more stereotyped views of the sexes.
Plausibility is related to viewing frequency. Some have argued that an observed
relationship between television viewing and gender stereotyping does not necessarily mean
that the television viewing causes the stereotyping. It maybe that those who tend to
stereotyped also tend to watch more television. There is research that shows that children
tend to choose programs that conform to gender stereotypes they have already learned. In
other words, the media reinforce gender stereotypes that children are taught both by their
parents and in school because children will select those media presentations that conform
to what they have previously learned.
A study by J. Shapiro and L. Kroeger (1991) suggests that mediated myths of relationships
contribute to socializing people into unrealistic views of what a normal relationship is. In
particular, they found that MTV’s and rock music’s emphasis on eroticism and sublime sex
is linked to an expectation of sexual perfectionism in real relationships.
Pathologizing the Human Body -
One of the most damaging consequences of media’s images of women and men is that
these images encourage us to perceive normal bodies and normal physical functions as
problems. These images contribute to feelings of inadequacy, anorexia, body image
problems, and cosmetic surgery.
In a study of 75 women students at Stanford University, the women reported they felt
worse about their appearance after reading women’s magazines.
Advertising is very effective in convincing us that we need products to solve problems we
are unaware of until some clever pubic relations campaign persuades us that something
natural about us is really unnatural and unacceptable – examples, gray hair, body hair,
wrinkles, menopause. Many women’s natural breast size exceeded the cultural ideal in the
1960s when thin, angular bodies were represented as ideal. Thus, breast reduction
surgeries rose. By the 1980s, cultural standards changed to define large breasts as the
feminine ideal. Consequently, breast augmentation surgeries accelerated.
These images are tied to larger social issues. For example, Greene and Dalton (1953)
observed that the term premenstrual tension was coined and fit neatly with the effort to
discredit women as inferior employees when they were no longer needed in the work force
after WWII and the Korean War.
Normalizing Violence against Women
Is watching violence related to engaging in violence? Children learn to perceive violence as
part of normal social life. The relationship between media violence and actual violence is
one of the most studied aspects of media. When we continuously see aggression, physical
assault, murder, rape, and other forms of violence depicted in media, it is small wonder that
we become desensitized to violence. 3 theories of the connection between media violence
and actual behavior: role modeling effect (watching violence makes one violent), cathartic
effect (watching violence gets it out of your system), and catalytic effect (it does not cause
violence but provides the catalyst for a personality prone to violence).
Roland (1993) reports male viewers are more likely than female viewers to see forced sex
depicted in music videos as justified if mutual sexual attraction between the male and
female performers was implied.
Lanis and Covell (1995) found that advertising portrayals of women affect sexual attitudes
and beliefs. They showed one group of men and women advertisements depicting female
models a s sex objects, whereas another group was shown advertisements with female
models competently performing various nontraditional roles. Lanis and Covell found that
the men who saw the sexist advertisements increased their tendency to gender stereotype
and also scored higher than other research participants on a scale measuring attitudes
supportive of rape and sexual aggression. Interestingly, though, seeing the progressive
advertisements had no effect on men’s attitudes. Women who saw the progressive ads
scored lowest on the scale of rape-supportive attitudes, but women who saw the sexist ads
also scored low on this scale and decreased their tendency to gender stereotype.
But research also indicates that gender-fair media images can have a positive impact. The
media especially television, are teaching tools; what is taught depends on what is shown.
When television provide "pro-social" content, they can effectively reduce gender
stereotypes and other forms of prejudice. The positive effects of pro-social media content
are strongest for young children.